The other week I had the pleasure of sampling the new Que Vida cigar. I was so intrigued by it, I decided to reach out to Timothy Phan (co-owner) of Que Vida Cigars to get more of a personal background on the company and founding members.
Que Vida Cigars is a young cigar company, the brainstorm of two hard working, millennial, war veterans, Timothy Phan and Manny Boujotas.
They are based out of the Fort Lee, NJ area which is a ripe cigar hub in the US. Over a 30 minute call, Timothy shared with me the company’s founding, his brotherhood with Manny and the rest of the Que Vida team, and impacts of the FDA on their brand.
Stogie Press – So how long have you been smoking cigars?
Timothy – 15 years, but I was around cigars for longer. My step-father smoked cigars and the first cigar I smoked on my 18th birthday was Monticristo #2. He always told me
“They are better than cigarettes, and besides, Gentlemen smoke cigars”
Stogie Press – How did you and Manny come to be friends?
Timothy – Manny actually went to the same High School (Fort Lee High) that I did. He graduated before me but we had mutual friends. We both joined the military after school, Manny went into the Air Force and I served in the Army. We would run into each other in the Fort Lee area on a number of occasions and started to hang out together. Manny is like a Brother from a different Mother and he is like a big brother to me. The love of cigars just brought us closer together. And we get along like brothers too, we have our disagreements but that is just like any family.
Stogie Press – How did the idea of Que Vida Cigars come about?
Timothy – Manny was always watching out for me. I was laid off from my IT job, this is after my time working for La Hoja Cigar Co. (A cigar brand by Willie Flores and Carlos Gomez). Manny suggested; “Why don’t you open your own shop? You have the knowledge and palate for it.”
I thought about that, but the area had a high concentration of shops already. I was too friendly with the shop owners and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes We then discussed the possibility of starting a brand.
I was big fan of Noel Rojas’ Guayacan cigars and in 2013, Noel told me when I was ready to make my own brand to give him a call. Manny was not in the picture at that time. In the summer of 2014, we linked up with Noel at IPCPR and then we paid his factory a visit in November of 2014.
Stogie Press – Did you know Riste from Jas Sum Kral Cigars and Ryan from Ohana Cigars before visiting the factory.
Timothy – No, I met them through Noel. He has such amazing cigars coming out of the factory. Noel suggested we all do a factory booth at the 2016 IPCPR and that made sense. Even though these cigars are made in the same factory, they are all unique in flavor and body. If you actually have smoke the JSK, the Pulse, the Guayacan, and the Que Vida you will know that they cover the spectrum of palates, so you can find something that pleases you in the lineup.
Stogie Press – How did you come up with the blend?
Timothy – We primarily used my palate, as it was more refined than Manny’s. It is a little more sensitive to the flavors and catching notes. Manny has een smoking cigars for about 11 years to my 18. Of course Manny provided input as did Noel Rojas and Scott De La Pena of Hermosa Cigars. It was the four of us at the time. We are all good friends.
Stogie Press – You guys are brave souls getting into the cigar market with all the looming FDA regulations, how are you addressing that?
Timothy – Being Millennials we appreciate the Global Market. Que Vida is not just a brand to be sold in the US. We are looking at international markets, South East Asia, Europe (Western and Eastern), China, and even West Africa. These are all growing markets for cigars.
The problem with the FDA is that they don’t seem to appreciate the natural process and blending that goes into making cigars- it is like wine. As an example, take an old Hermosa cigar by Noel Rojas. Use the same leaf placed differently and you end up with a completely different smoke.
In the end, we will focus on where the business moves us. It is about revenue. If we can make it here in the US we will. As Veterans we would like to keep it all in the USA, but the FDA is painful.
Stogie Press – What can you tell us about future blends on the horizon?
Timothy – We have a binder full of blends that we have been working on. Most important though is Que Vida brand recognition and having a consistent product from coast to coast. The future will be focused on limited edition cigars, 1000 – 2000 boxes maximum. We are planning a Que Vida Maduro down the road that will not be a limited edition.
Que Vida was recently announced as a contender for the Stogie Press Top 25 Boutique Cigars of 2016.